Having triumphantly resuscitated Kermit and co. in 2011 with the The Muppets, director James Bobin faces that Difficult Second Movie hurdle. Reassuringly for long-time Muppet fans, he and writer Nicholas Stoller have knocked up a globe-trotting jewel heist that’s firmly in the tradition of The Great Muppet Caper (1981).
Much more knowing in tone, and more busily plotted than Jason Segel and Stoller’s innocent and nostalgic 2011 take, it revels in the comedy cunning of Constantine: Kermit’s Russian doppelganger and the world’s most wanted criminal.
Swapping places with a gulag-slammed Kermie, then whisking the easily-duped Muppets on a European tour as cover for his audacious art-thefts, he’s the film’s villainous motor. As his resentful human sidekick Dominic Badguy (“It’s pronounced Badgey. It’s French”), Ricky Gervais’ deadpan spices up the generous helpings of sweet-natured slapstick and ‘friends first’ morality.
But as the story ricochets through European capitals at a whistlestop pace, it starts to register as frantic and overstuffed. Ty Burrell’s bumbling Clouseau-ish Interpol agent feels all of a piece with the ’60s caper-movie mood. Yet Kermit’s stretch in a Siberian prison seems a one-joke idea inflated with winking movie gags (that Lector mask, a Shawshank-style poster of Miss Piggy) that even Tina Fey’s vampy commandant can’t animate.
Celebrity cameos have always been a Muppet mainstay, but here they come in a veritable blizzard, ranging from snatched glimpses of Lady Gaga and Sean Combs, to smirking gulag-gang appearances from Danny Trejo, Ray Liotta and Tom Hiddleston. This glut of star-spotting sometimes makes the film resemble that other ’60s movie craze: the madcap chase film – top-heavy with ker-aazy cameos.
However, Gervais, the only star with a part big enough to sink his teeth into, is an unhurried delight in the film’s hectic whirl. And despite the breakneck pace, the movie manages to keep intact that all-important Muppety balance between adult pop-culture snickering and goofy child-pleasing pratfalls.
Playing a key role are the songs, once again from Bret Mackenzie, including the self-mocking opener ‘We’re Doing a Sequel’ that assures us that ‘It’s what we do in Hollywood/ Though it’s never quite as good’. Never was a truer word spoken in jest…
Smartly spoofy rather than sweetly nostalgic, this distractingly star-studded jaunt is fast and funny, but short on emotional punch. But a good time awaits for kids and long-time Muppet-lovers.